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Coming Soon: Education Department's 50-State Teacher-Equity Strategy

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and his staff began to preview what their promised  "50-state strategy" on teacher equity might look like during a wide-ranging interview with reporters on Thursday.

This strategy will require, at first, states to update their plans for "highly qualified teachers" that are required under the No Child Left Behind Act—plans that haven't been modified in years, said Deb Delisle, assistant secretary of elementary and secondary education. Then, the department is examining whether it can use committed to using the enforcement powers of its office for civil rights to ensure that disadvantaged students have equitable access to highly effective teachers. (The department clarified with me that they are definitely using the OCR's powers to address this issue.) And department staff are also thinking through how to tie NCLB waivers to how well a state does, or doesn't, ensure the equitable distribution of teachers.

Delisle's remarks came as part of a post-State of the Union briefing that Duncan and top-level staff had with reporters at the department's Washington headquarters. Topics ranged from who's up next for an NCLB waiver to what Duncan thinks of Indiana's education landscape.

The 50-state teacher-equity strategy came about after the department put forth new requirements for states to renew a waiver, which contained new steps states would have to take to ensure equitable distribution of teachers. Civil rights groups cheered, states balked, and the department backtracked. At the time, department officials promised to replace the effort with a 50-state strategy that would be launched in earnest by the end of January. (Clearly, the timeline has been pushed back.)

"It's quite complex when we look across a 50-state strategy," Delisle said today.

Besides teacher equity, Duncan and his crew addressed:

• The fate of ESEA reauthorization, which appears to be going nowhere:

"I don't think it's a given" that it won't pass during President Barack Obama's term, Duncan said. "We could go into high gear overnight."

• Whether Illinois will finally get its NCLB waiver:

It's being "re-reviewed," Delisle said, noting that the state's teacher-evaluation timelines, which don't match federal requirements now, will eventually match up. "Stay tuned," Duncan said.

• How to better prepare teachers to use technology in their classrooms:

The department will be publishing a "Dear Colleague" letter soon advising states and districts of all the ways they can use existing money to both buy devices and learn to use them.

• A New York proposal to allow students with severe disabilities to be tested on standards up to two grade levels below their current grade:

Delisle wouldn't comment on the New York situation specifically. "We would have to look at it very carefully," she said, noting that the department has moved away from the so-called 2 percent rule that allowed some students with disabilities to not take tests "very deliberately."  We don't want to have "their educations diminished by teaching to lower standards," she said.

• Whether the department will hold states like Indiana, which agreed to use the common core to get an NCLB waiver and now may drop out, to a higher standard for keeping their waivers:

Those decisions will be made on a "case-by-case" basis, Duncan said. In Indiana, specifically, there's a "level of dysfunction that I have never seen before," he said. Listen to everything he had to say about Indiana here:

 

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